An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: The theme of The Women’s Conference 2008 this week is We Empower. Does religion empower women?
To get at the question of whether religion empowers women, I’d have to ask another question first. Should women aspire to power if such power is compromised to begin with? Sarah Palin was adhering to the norm when she asked God to back her run for office in Alaska. Using God as a political strong arm is religion’s dirty little secret, or maybe the secret has lost its covert quality by now. Without a second blush, millions of believers want God to make them more affluent, successful, and influential. Yet one of the founding purposes of religion was to cancel out worldliness, with very mixed results. In Christianity, for example, the ideal believer is humble, selfless, and forgiving. Add those traits up, and they equal powerlessness. Or rather, Jesus asked for a shift of power away from the worldly, which he considered trifling, to the spiritual, which he considered all-important. A second strain in religion is service, known in Protestantism as the social gospel, which holds that helping the needy wins favor with God. That, too, is hardly a route to secular power.
If they can get past these compromises, women shouldn’t be denied. The higher ups in every faith have a tendency to control the lower downs. For every monk who takes a vow of celibacy, there’s a bishop or cardinal pulling strings in local government (this isn’t a paranoid accusation — much of their participation is public and above board). The gender issue comes down to how many women are given access to the upper echelons of a denomination. The more liberal Protestant sects allow fairly free access while Catholicism gives none at all. It’s not for us outsiders to make judgments one way or the other, since church politics belong to the members.
Of course, empowerment has another meaning — personal empowerment — that religion influences. The results here are decidedly mixed. The tradition of blaming women for original sin through the disobedience of Eve links to another tradition that sees women as vessels of physical temptation. Obviously few modern woman want to be associated with either, but leaving theology aside, a woman may feel empowered through faith, inspiration, or service. The exaltation of mother goddesses around the world has made the role of motherhood sacred (any number of people call their mothers a saint, but not many use that term for their fathers).
Given so many tangled influences, I don’t think you wind up with a box score. It’s dubious whether you could even conclude that religion is more positive than negative, or vice versa. In one area, however — the new spirituality that is growing outside organized religion — there’s no doubt that women not only take the lead but seek empowerment on all levels. They want to feel stronger in themselves and be stronger in the world. Given how subordinate women have been for centuries, and how unabashedly organized churches stood on the side of social repression, I think any road to empowerment for women is a positive development.
Visit www.intent.com to read more from Deepak Chopra and other prominent voices.
The progressive side of American politics feels done in by the nasty work of Karl Rove, following in the muddy footprints of the late Lee Atwater, a grinning, guitar-strumming master of demagoguery. The effectiveness of slamming Michael Dukakis with the horrifying tale of Willie Horton is now being revived using mug shots of William Ayers. Rove has been retooled as robo calls in a number of swing states, all of it to see if the old black magic will keep working. Instead of erupting in outrage and secretly dreading that a smear campaign will undo Barack Obama’s lead in the polls, I return to the basics.
Why did the Republican smear machine work in the first place? The answer from many on the left is that the American electorate is stupid, malleable, covertly racist, easily frightened, and capable of falling for rich white Republicans who could care less about the common man. Let’s say that all those things are valid (even though most are open to debate). Such factors can’t be quantified, and if asked, many people give ambiguous or misleading answers about their personal beliefs. The second point to make is that Barack Obama owes his rise, in large measure, to overlooking people’s worst instincts and appealing to their better ones.
From the beginning, his campaign has posed a clear-cut choice between the best and worst in human nature. The right-wing revolution went through three stages of moral deterioration.
Stage 1 — Resentment toward blacks, gays, immigrants, liberals, atheists, and the educated class was openly encouraged for political gain. Previously unrespectable, even anti-social beliefs were given entree into electoral debates. This was the Nixon ‘silent majority’ phase.
Stage 2 – Splinter groups that preached intolerance and bigotry were praised for their “values.” This was the Reagan phase, which preached the hollow slogan of “Morning in America” while ignoring AIDS victims — just one symbol of institutional immorality.
Stage 3 – As the right wing gained power, anyone who didn’t agree with their ideology was smeared and labeled as immoral, unpatriotic, extremist, and disloyal. The term ‘liberal’ encapsulated all. of these. This was the high-water mark of the Tom DeLay, Karl Rove phase during the Bush years.
Obama isn’t proposing a return to left-liberal politics so much as a reversal of these three stages of moral decline. His great adversary is apathy. As long as 40% of the electorate votes Republican out of inertia, the demagogues had an easy time getting another 8 – 10% to follow fear, intolerance, and xenophobia, the toxins that all democracies are susceptible to, especially in stressful times. Those wedge voters are probably still in place, even if they feel demoralized by the defrocking of their patron saint, Pres. Bush. Three million dedicated Christian fundamentalists, fired up by fringe issues like flag burning and gay marriage, can only sway a Presidential election if there is severely low voter turnout.
But now the apathetic majority has risen up for the first time since the Reagan revolution, not to vote for Democrats but against an immoral agenda that masked itself in sheep’s clothing. I know many people who are afraid that McCain and the Rove machine can stir up the worst in human nature once again. For me, the right attitude isn’t fear and suspicion but a clear-eyed realization that voters vote for immorality only when they are blind or asleep. Waking up is Obama’s best hope, and although it took an economic calamity to seal McCain’s fate, the electorate seems more awake this year than in a very long time
Visit www.intent.com to read more from Deepak Chopra and other prominent voices.
An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: Fears about the economy. Anger on the campaign trail. Which concerns you most? How should we respond?
Two crises are overlapping right now, one economic, the other political. The absence of leadership magnifies the threat of recessions. Most religious people approach crises as a test of faith. The setup is modeled on various scriptures. There is David (God tests if a king will give in to lust and betray a friend) Job (God tests a righteous man to see if he will remain righteous), Peter (God tests if a disciple will betray his master), and Jesus himself (God tests if his son will make the ultimate sacrifice). There are many others, of course, beginning with Adam and Eve. These tests clearly follow a pattern:
— God sets up the test for a reason.
— You have to figure out the reason.
— Once you do, passing the test will determine if God loves you or not.
— You know you’ve passed the test by how well your life turns out.
The problem with this pattern is that every aspect of it is an illusion. A God of love wouldn’t set up horrible calamities in the first place, not to mention that no one has ever had the slightest shred of proof that God’s intentions can be read. Figuring out what the test means makes no sense if the crisis was never intentional to begin with. Maybe an economic bubble bursts because that’s how bubbles end. Once you emerge from a crisis you feel better, but that doesn’t mean God loves you again. Atheists feel better, too. Finally, you can never know that you passed a test, because there’s always another crisis around the corner. Does God bring that one because you did so well on the first or because you did so badly?
The truth is that people find it hard to live with the stress of a severe crisis, and this stress is deepened by not knowing what the future will bring. To protect ourselves from panic in the face of the unknown, it’s easy to fall back on a higher power who has his (or her) reasons for doing these terrible things but who in the end can be placated once we offer enough obedience, prayers, repentance, and better behavior. To the religious mind, all these things come naturally, but they are probably just social conditioning. In the absence of organized religion and its complicated notions of sin, how would a crisis feel? It would make you feel shaken and insecure, which leads to fear, and fear is often defended against with anger. For millions of people, simply the prospect of change arouses fear and anger. Crises make this tendency worse, because a crisis forces change, and no one reacts well to being forced.
One shouldn’t worry about these emotional eruptions. Worry is unproductive. One should do what grownups are meant to do: reassure the child-like part of the self that feels weak and afraid. Standing up and telling others not to be weak and afraid offers a tiny bit of help (Pres. Bush’s reassurances in this direction are essentially pointless, for good reason). More good is done by offering credible solutions. At this point, with the Republicans arousing unbridled anger by accusing Obama of consorting with terrorists, recriminations against them do little good. The dark side of human nature can be triggered; that’s a psychological fact. The same is true of the economic crisis; people typically give in to runaway fear before they come to the point of confronting it. (The fear generated by 9/11 still has yet to be confronted.)
Ultimately, the restoration of calm will send fear and anger back into their hiding places. Assuming that we have legitimate elections and market stability in the near future, most people will stop being triggered by stress. On the fringes the extremists will continue to provoke our national demons. But it feels as if Sen. Obama, a naturally cautious, deliberate adult, gives little quarter to fear and anger. He will serve as a counter-example to Pres. Bush, whose entire career in office has been fueled by both. A leader who doesn’t stoke rage and anxiety will be novel and most welcome. Human nature won’t change, but it can be quelled.
Visit www.intent.com to read more from Deepak Chopra and other prominent voices.
A few months ago, my two daughters were ring bearers in two of our closest friends wedding ceremony. My girls dressed up in their Indian clothes, thrilled to have the honor of being such VIPs. As our friends recited their vows, my girls peaked at me and my husband, winking, thumbs up, and very serious about protecting the rings. For my daughters – 4 and 6 1/2 years old – it was not a big deal that both of our friends were the same sex.
A few weeks after the wedding, I received the email below (Equality for Us and Our Family) from my newly married friend. Their marriage is in jeopardy due to a vote this coming November. Prop 8 in California will determine whether or not the State Constitution should be amended to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry.
I believe marriage rights are a legal and equal protection/equal rights issue and not a political issue…. however, this issue will be decided at the polls this November in California. More than 25 state constitutions in the USA have been amended in the last 8 “Bush years” to memorialize discrimination on this issue….as the right wing has been using such Propositions as a rallying cry to help get their (socially conservative) voter base out.
My friend is working hard to try to raise money to help defeat this Proposition. He scared me this week by telling me the Mormon Church is the single largest proponent of Prop 8, and is doing all it can to ensure that the Proposition wins. He said the church has gone on an active campaign on this (political) issue, including promoting the proposition and raising funds for it actively with church members….such that the (conservative) group/s supporting the Proposition are now $10 million ahead in raising funds. Aside from the fundraising advantage (which results in a practical advantage as misleading advertising is used to scare people into voting for the Proposition), key societal and public opinion trends in California generally favor marriage equality for our gay
friends and family.
If you would like to support the right to equality for all families, please do so at Vote No on Prop 8 using referral code 527.
As a mom, I wonder if the State Constitution itself is amended, how do I explain to my daughters that this special day in their life, that the ceremony of celebrating and cherishing our friends love for each other, is somehow not recognized?
Here is my friend’s email:
Equality for us and our family
We almost don’t know where to begin this note…
* At the moment in the summer of 1995 as I walked on Veteran Avenue toward Joe’s student apartment and thought to myself “My God! I have actually met my soul-mate and I am totally screwed…because it is a man!!”. I was thinking this because I never thought I would be lucky enough to meet
my soul-mate in life. Growing up in India, where parents and families play a huge role in the selection of a spouse…I had gotten reconciled to the idea of a pleasant but passionless arranged marriage to a girl from a “good” family…and to the idea that I would likely never experience true romantic love
* Or the moment of shock we both felt when Joe startled me by asking for my hand in marriage (sitting in the car in a parking lot on Santa Monica Boulevard)…well before either of us had even acknowledged we were gay!). I instantly “blew off the idea” in embarrassment (a man was asking me to marry him!)…but Joe wouldn’t give up so easily (he has proposed to me “officially” at least 3 or 4 more times in the last 11 years)
* Or my moment of “epiphany” driving alone down Olympic Boulevard, 3 years later, before we had told anyone in our lives about our relationship. For the first “in the closet” 3 years of our relationship till this moment in time, I had been reconciled to “sacrificing my love” for the “better good of the family” (as the alternative was obviously going to “blow up” my key family relationships and life plan). However, 3 years into the relationship Joe had finally told me he needed to move on if we were not to be a couple. Faced with the reality of losing my true love, my moment of epiphany went something like this: “My feelings for Joe are the truth…I feel them deep inside me. So I would not be living the truth if I gave this up. Would I respect myself as a person if this is the choice I made? The answer came back clearly: a resounding No! I will only respect myself if I live the truth!”. This moment of clarity changed my life forever.
* Or the moments of hopelessness we felt and I continue to feel since we came out to our families 10 years ago….knowing that my parents feel I betrayed them and their happiness…and also knowing it is likely they will never accept that my choice to “live the truth” and choose my happiness (over “what’s right for the family”) was the right decision
* Or the moment in San Francisco City Hall in 2004…when after standing in line for 12 hours, we were married (thanks to Gavin Newsom!) by a San Francisco City Clerk…both a moment of total happiness for me and my love and family to be….as well as a moment of deep pain….as I knew my sister (and best friend for most of my life) was only 10 minutes away…but I couldn’t call her to share this moment with me….as she didn’t yet accept
that I was doing the right thing (thankfully, she does now!)
* Or how we felt when we received a notice of marriage annulment only 2 months after our wedding in San Francisco….since the weddings completed by the City of San Francisco were deemed “illegal” (as CA voters has passed a law in 2000 banning gay marriages)
* Or how we felt on May 15th of this year when the California supreme court deemed it a fundamental constitutional right of every individual to “establish – with the person the individual has chosen to share his or her life – an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage”.
Wow! The Supreme Court decision made us cry, immediately go for a celebratory lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant, and love this great state we live in! Here’s what the court said about whether it was OK to call same-sex unions by a name different than marriage: “assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same sex couples while reserving the official designation of ‘marriage’ exclusively for opposite sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same sex couples such equal dignity and respect”.
* Or, the complex range of emotions we felt planning our own impromptu wedding this summer….after we decided we wanted to get married one more (hopefully final) time. The planning process was tiring and a roller coaster ride emotionally….but the day itself was totally magical.
Before we move on from describing our journey, we want you to know that despite all our moments filled with emotions both deeply positive and strongly negative, our journey together has been and continues to be joyful, uplifting and happy.
As you can tell, the marriage issue is a hugely important one for us. Our friends often ask us if we feel any different now that we’re married… and we tell them that although the marriage didn’t change our feelings or level of commitment to each other….it has definitely made a difference (subtle bt unmistakable) in how we are treated by friends and family. Joe says it best when he describes how the hugs he receives from my sister are totally different now…in a way that warms us both. We also want to be “married” for our kids-to-be….as we believe it will make a difference in how they perceive our family vs. the families of their friends at school.
We are hoping you will care about our marriage….because we know you care about us. So the purpose of this email is to make an “ask”… to help us defeat a ballot initiative (called “Prop 8″) that has been placed on the November California ballot to amend the California constitution and take away the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.
The opportunity is historic and your support can make a big difference in whether we successfully defeat this ill-intentioned initiative (unfortunately, the “other side” is being funded heavily by so called “family focused” conservatives across the nation. They have raised about $10million more than us – for a total raised of over $25 million to our roughly $15 million raised thus far). Before we ask you for your money….let us tell you about our own donation to the campaign.
I think you know we are in the midst of the worst mortgage and real estate market since the great depression….and also that this was a market in which both Joe and I were heavily invested (with our careers and other financial investments). Despite the market and our need to be fiscally conservative, Joe and I felt we had to give in an amount that would be meaningful….and that means an amount that we felt was too large for us to afford (i.e., it would feel like a real sacrifice). We told the Campaign (“No on Prop 8″) we would help raise a minimum of $10,000 and then decided to donate this full amount ourselves…and try to raise many times this initial goal.
We appreciate your consideration of our request….and hope you decide to make a donation in any amount you feel you can afford (albeit perhaps not totally comfortably J).
The actual process of giving is simple: You can go to Vote No on Prop 8 and make a donation via credit card (Please don’t forget to put in 527 as your referral code).
To read more from Mallika Chopra visit www.intent.com